Abuse cases stress county resources
March 17, 2023
Citing stress and burnout as the precipitating factor for three open positions in Health and Human Services, director Dave Lee said those staffers have “tough jobs.” Caseloads in child protection, mental health and involving vulnerable adults have swelled for county workers, with screenings of between three and 10 incidents reported daily.
“These are heavy numbers, and it is growing, of child abuse cases,” observed County Attorney Lauri Ketola during Tuesday’s Carlton County board of commissioners meeting. “There are several factors for the increase. Professionals, family, and friends are more open to report abuse of any kind. Some of this increase is due to the forced seclusion during the Covid epidemic. It is a darkness in our society that we need to address.”
Sheriff Kelly Lake stated it is true there is a big upswing in cases of child abuse, disruptions due to mental health issues, and struggling vulnerable adults. She gave examples of the different ways the county is responding, including:
• The Assertive Community Treatment team is actively addressing persistent and serious mental illness issues in the community where the client lives.
• A crisis response team, handled through the Human Development Center, responds to wide-ranging issues.
• First Witness follows a national model that investigates child abuse and provides a safe approach to addressing a child’s needs and an avenue for them to heal.
• Coordination between the county attorney’s office, law enforcement, and Health and Human Services form a coordinated response for each verified abuse case.
• A social worker in the local jail setting is working on individual issues with incarcerated people on stopping the cycle of abuse and disharmony and its effect on family, especially children
Board members approved hiring replacements for a child protection case manager, a child protection social worker, and a case manager who works with mental health issues and vulnerable adults. This was due to resignations and transfers to other departments. More staff may be added later in public health or the sheriff’s office to address the increasing caseloads.
Commissioner Tom Proulx asked Lee to give the board a five-year overview of the ballooning abuse reports at a committee of the whole meeting in the next two months.
Youth shelter news
Commissioners also approved a youth shelter agreement with St. Louis County to provide child shelter services at a new Morgan Park facility. Services for Carlton County families are now provided at Lutheran Social Service’s new Bethany facility in the Morgan Park area of Duluth, which includes the Bethany Crisis Shelter and a family resource center.
The local youth shelter in Cloquet, which was run by Lutheran Social Service, but funded by the county, closed in October. Public health director Lee had recommended the Cloquet facility be closed when it was determined that around-the-clock staffing then-serving only a few children was expensive. He observed at that time that those dollars could be invested in other program efforts to help struggling families. Additionally, more programming is available at the Morgan Park facility.
Commissioner Dick Brenner said a new facility at the Churchill site was being investigated. Proulx said county staff have been needed in certain instances for up to four hours at the Morgan Park site to process Carlton County children into the facility.
Zoning and environmental services administrator Heather Cunningham gave her annual report for 2022.
Cunningham said there was a large increase, with 1,282 tons of recycling collected at the recycling centers. Barnum schools are now recycling their food waste.
Currently, Carlton County sends 17,000 tons of solid waste to the Moccasin Mike landfill in Superior, Wisconsin. The landfill is scheduled to close in 2026. The Carlton County board approved a support letter for $24.5 million of legislative funding for upgrading the Virginia landfill and developing a new landfill in Canyon — both major projects being organized in neighboring St. Louis County.
The cost of developing a landfill at Canyon will cost $20 million when completed and will be covered by gate fees from those using the facility. The Canyon facility being developed by St. Louis County is considered the long-term solution for solid waste management in Northeastern Minnesota.
Cunningham also reported there were 77 new homes countywide, with Twin Lakes Township the highest, adding 22, and Barnum Township adding 10 for a total of almost $22.5 million in new construction or improvements estimated.
There were seven solar systems permitted in the county last year.
In other county news
• Former director of the Carlton County Sexual and Domestic Abuse program Sue Wojciehowski was appointed to the Human Services Advisory Committee.
• A third round of opioid settlements is being distributed. Teva, Allergen, CVS, and Walgreens have settled and the county board approved a resolution accepting the formula for the distribution of funds from this legal settlement.
• This legislative session sees the Minnesota Association of County Surveyors asking counties such as Carlton County to ask for funding for remonumenting the Public Land Survey System network corners in this county. Carlton County has about 1,500 corners to site.